Zuko gasped and sat up. He was no longer in the water but on land. Zuko looked around him. This wasn't the Water Tribe's city. It was a swamp, hot, muggy. There was a strange golden tint to everything and the whole place felt…otherworldly.
It was. This is the Spirit World. Zuko thought frantically. Am I dead? I hurt, but I don't feel dead.
Zuko let out a breath and tried to summon fire in his palm. Nothing happened. He tried again. Still nothing. He then recalled Uncle once saying how bending was impossible in the Spirit World…for the living.
The Spirit World, Zuko recalled from stories his mother and uncle told him, was parallel to the physical world. During solstices and eclipses the line between them became practically invisible, allowing spirits to enter the physical and vice versa for humans. Some spirits were strong enough they could traverse between the two worlds at their own will.
But how did he get here? The spirits of the dead came here when their physical bodies died, but they usually lived in the land of whatever element they came from. People of the Fire Nation lived in Agni's realm, in a mountain chain of volcanoes.
But Zuko was sure he wasn't dead. Did the moon's temporary change and disappearance count as an eclipse? Perhaps it was the Ocean Spirit who dragged him here? Spirits could often bring people into the Spirit World, though usually not for friendly visits.
You are correct.
Zuko jumped at the voice and looked around. It was male, deep and raspy.
It was the Ocean Spirit who brought you here, young firebender. I asked it of him, since I am unable to bring you myself.
"Who are you?" Zuko shouted. "Show yourself!"
The winds howled in response. Zuko watched as shadows detached themselves and formed in front of him. A creature appeared. It was incredibly tall; its body seemed incomplete. The upper part seemed like the torso of a man wrapped in a black cloak, but it flowed down and ended in shadow. If the creature had legs and feet, Zuko couldn't tell.
The skin was a deep, rough blue. Long-fingered hands with curved black claws appeared out of the "sleeves". Its face was an oval, with deep, gleaming red eyes, a curved nose, and a fierce, mocking snarl parted to reveal lines of white fangs. A tangled, matted black mane framed the creature's face.
It snarled and bent down so it was eye-level with Zuko.
"Who are you?" Zuko repeated, trying not to let his voice crack.
You mean you don't recognize me? You wear my face often enough.
"You-You're the Blue Spirit?"
One of the many names I go by. You may call me that, but I prefer Hyna.
"Why did you want to see me?"
Oh prince, I've wanted to see you in person for a long time. But I have always been watching you, as my liege commanded me to do. Seeing Zuko's confused look, he went on. It is a long tale, one I will not recite for you, for we would be here for the rest of your life if I did. But I became indebted to your patron spirit, the Great Agni. He commanded me when you were born, to watch over you. The shadows in your room you pretended were your friends when you were lonely as a child?-that was me. I have been watching and influencing your life.
"Influencing!" Zuko shouted. "My whole life, my nightmare, my scar, my mother, everything! Did you influence all of that?"
Hyna looked remorseful, as much as a spirit possible could look. I am sorry. he said simply.
You must understand, as terrible as some things are, for yes, you have suffered greatly, all these things were meant to happen. There are certain parts of your destiny that no one can change, not me or you. All of these things had to happen to shape you into who you are. The things currently happening are shaping you as we speak.
"You sound like my uncle" Zuko snarled. "You should bring him here and have tea with him! I'm sure you could have great conversations."
Zuko, you had been fed lies since birth. I only speak and show the truth to you. You must unravel the web of lies if you wish to free yourself from this life. You are capable of greatness; you can change the world, but only if you can find and follow your true path. I try to guide you, but I can only do so much.
At these words, Zuko saw part of the spirit was…attached to the tree behind him.
I am imprisoned here, for a reason it would take too long to explain, time we do not have. I am limited into what I can do and what I can bring between the two worlds.
"What you show…I had a dream, of my cousins' death but I wasn't there. Was…was that you?"
Hyna nodded sadly. A fine man Prince Lu Ten is.
"Lu Ten? Is…is he here? Can I see him?"
Hyna was now shaking his head no. There is no time, you must return. We will see each other again, Prince Zuko.
"No, wait!" Zuko shouted, but there was only darkness around him.
Zuko gasped and pulled himself out of the water with trembling arms. How long had he been underwater? It couldn't have been that long, but it felt like ages.
Zuko suddenly felt exhausted and collapsed on the cold ground.
"Zuko!" Uncle was rushing towards him. "Zuko, are you alright? You're soaking wet; you're going to freeze!"
Zuko forced himself to sit up and blew out some fire, relieved that he could bend again. Uncle helped him to his feet and wrapped his cloak around him to keep him warm.
The sound of approaching footsteps made them both turn. Katara was standing there, having gone looking for Aang.
"So what's going on?" Katara asked, sounding resigned, yet angry. "Are you on our side or not? I'm confused, Zuko. You're so complicated and I can't figure you out."
They stared at one another for a moment. Zuko let out a breath of steam. "I saw… what the Avatar did. I saw what he did to the fleet, to my people. Because of that, they're all dead."
"There are hundreds of people here that are dead or wounded!" Katara shouted back. "Millions who have died in the war your country started. Yue is dead, my mother is dead!"
"I didn't start this war! I didn't kill the Air Nomads, I didn't cause Yue's death, and I certainly didn't kill your mother! You can hate me all you want Katara, if that's what you want. But if you do, then you can at least hate me for the things I've done myself, not what my ancestors or countrymen did. I'm tired of being blamed for everything wrong in this world! If you want to yell at someone over the war starting, how about you yell at the Avatar?!"
Zuko let out another breath of steam, then turned and walked away without so much as a backward glance.
In the comfort of her fur bed, Katara cried. She had chased Aang and Sokka out of the room, wanting to be alone.
It was three days since the Siege of the North ended. Three days of tending to the wounded, and capturing unfortunate Fire Nation soldiers who had survived the slaughter but couldn't escape. Three days of hearing the cries over the loss of loved ones and the rituals to the Moon and Ocean to watch over the dead. There was no body to send out to sea for Yue; her's had disappeared after her sacrifice. Katara felt sad over Yue, but that wasn't the reason she was crying.
It was Zuko. She hated him for what he did, hated that she was wasting tears over him. He betrayed her. He lied to her. She would never, could never, ever, forgive him.
Monster. That's what you are Zuko. She cursed him, wherever he was. He and his uncle had vanished after she tried to confront him. But it didn't matter. She never wanted to see him again.
Miles to the south, on a small raft in the middle of the cold ocean, Zuko found himself thinking about a certain waterbender. He felt so confused. He didn't hate her, but it was clear that was how she viewed him. Damn, he'd been close.
But the Avatar. After what he'd done, there was no way Zuko could continue with that so-called truce he'd planned. He watched thousands of his countrymen die, years of shipbuilding sink to the bottom of the ocean, and all because of that child.
He had to choose between his country and, well treachery. Siding with the Avatar and his allies would make him a traitor. I'm not a traitor! I love my country and my people.
He glanced to the side where uncle was taking a nap. Uncle would be labeled a traitor. And simply for helping the moon. They all needed the moon. It, She rather, balanced the atmosphere and controlled the oceans. Without her, the world would fall into chaos.
But the Moon is back now. That girl, Yue, she gave her life for it. Uncle had filled him on what happened when he went after Zhao. Though she was Water Tribe, he admired the girl's last act of bravery and self-sacrifice. Her story would become one of legend, of bedtime nurseries, how the princess became the moon.
And speaking of spirits, there was a particular, interfering blue one on his mind. The Blue Spirit, Hyna, he'd called himself, was…disturbing.
Zuko shook his head. He did not want to think about that now. He would tell uncle what happened later, when he could think straight again.
He recalled the message he'd sent before his ship had been destroyed. Yes, he would need the Red Spirit's help, for support if nothing else. Zuko stared out at the seemingly endless ocean. They needed to get back to the Earth Kingdom. And soon.
"Katara?" Sokka's voice sounded muffled on the other side of the door.
Her brother poked his head in cautiously, as if she was going to throw ice daggers at him. "Sis, you okay? You've been in here all day."
Katara looked up from where she was still sitting on her bed. She was pretty sure she looked awful-red rimmed eyes, tangled hair, pale face.
I wonder if this is how I looked after mom died.
Sokka held up a steaming bowl. "I brought you something to eat." He held it out to her.
"Thanks." She accepted it, but set it on the nightstand. She wasn't terribly hungry.
"So how are you holding up?" she asked. Sokka looked tired and older and had been unusually quiet and somber. She missed loud, goofy Sokka.
"I'm alright. I miss Yue."
"We all miss her. And we won't forget her."
Sokka smiled weakly, but Katara could tell it was forced. It never reached his eyes.
"Where's Aang?" she asked, trying to steer the conversation elsewhere.
"He's with Pakku, training. Pakku says he has a lot left to learn and if trying to get him to learn as much as possible before we leave."
Katara nodded glumly. She hadn't done any waterbending since the siege ended; she hadn't felt like it.
"Pakku's hoping you'll tutor Aang after we leave. He says you've learned so much. You've mastered all the basics and you've got almost all the advanced moves down. He thinks if you keep practicing the way you've been, you'll be at master-level within a year or two. Isn't that great?"
It was Katara's turn for a weak smile. She knew Sokka was trying to cheer her up. She was proud of her accomplishments, considering how poor she'd been when they first left the South Pole. The scroll from Zuko's ship had helped…
Katara clenched her jaw. She did not want to think of him. Ever.
Sokka must have gained the ability to read minds, because he said casually, "Still thinking about jerkface?"
"Yeah." She couldn't say more, feeling tears well up and close her throat. She placed her head on Sokka's shoulder and felt hot tears slip out. "I hate him!" she sniffed. "He's horrible and confusing and I-I just hate him!" Her shoulders shook and she began to sob again.
Sokka rubbed circles on her back, comfortingly. "I know. I hate him too. I hate them all. They're evil."
"They're heartless. They're monsters." Katara spat. It felt good to say such things, cruel or not. It helped to let some of her anger out.
"I hate the Fire Nation" said Sokka. "They raided out village, took our mother, held you captive, attacked the Northern Water Tribe, and killed Yue. I know Aang doesn't believe in violence and killing, but Firelord Ozai needs to go down!"
"The whole ocean needs to rise up and drown their whole country!" Katara screamed, emotion overflowing her senses.
A gasping noise came from the door. Aang was standing there, wide-eyed, looking like he'd just seen them kicking cute, baby leopard seals for fun.
"What's wrong with you?" the Avatar cried. "I mean, I know the Fire Nation has done lots of bad things, but you don't really mean that."
"Yes. I do" Katara said darkly. "The world would be better off without them."
"The monks used to say hate was like a tree. You plant the seeds of hate in someone's heart and they grow into a tree. The person becomes poisoned by their hate. And just as seeds fall and are planted, harsh words and thoughts can make hate spread. You have to stop the tree from growing so it can't spread anymore."
Katara and Sokka both snorted. "The monks aren't here, Aang" said Sokka. "War is. Hate, and death, and destruction are all part of it. You can't convince people otherwise, you can't end over a century of violence with happy, little sayings. And we hate the Fire Nation and there are millions of other people around the world who would agree with us. They need to be stopped."
"There are no buts, Aang" It was Katara's turn to speak. "That's how it is. It's not fair, it's just the world."
Nothing would convince them otherwise. The Fire Nation was the epitome of evil. They needed to be gone.
If you're confused, think of how poor Katara is feeling. She is confused because she was starting to think Zuko was actually a good person, but then she sees him in the Fire Nation uniform with Zhao. But he turns and attacks Zhao, and the next thing she knows, Zuko is carting her and Aang off. She isn't sure if Zuko is actually trying to help them or kidnap them. When Sokka and Yue come (remember Sokka is still very distrustful of Fire Nation) he automatically assumes Zuko is hurting them. Aang, wanting to believe there is some good in everyone, convinces them to let Zuko come with them. However, after the battle, Sokka, who is devastated over Yue, speaks badly about all Fire Nation, including Zuko. Katara eventually sides with her brother, going back to believing all Fire Nation is evil monsters.